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Woods stands in front of a fire in Black Ops Cold War Image: Treyarch, Raven Software/Activision

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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a direct sequel to the first Black Ops

Time for some more brainwashing

Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

It’s weird to think that the Call of Duty: Black Ops series became as futuristic as it did, considering its origins. The first Black Ops was set in the 1960s, in the heart of the Vietnam War. It featured real-world leaders (John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro) and period technology (radar sweeps instead of UAVs). But just one game later, in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Treyarch went with an almost-entirely futuristic setting, save for a few flashbacks. Black Ops 3 and 4 followed down that same path, replete with robots, lasers, and jetpacks.

But, forget all that. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is here to bring you back in time.

Back from the future

A KGB operative in Black Ops Cold War Image: Treyarch, Raven Software/Activision

Cold War’s campaign is a direct sequel to the first Black Ops game. Set in 1981, it highlights the ever-escalating conflict between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States. At the center of it, some familiar faces: Alex Mason, the brainwashed protagonist of the first game, is joined by Frank Woods and Jason Hudson, two mainstays of the series. Players won’t control them, though, instead taking on the role of an unnamed operative taking the fight to the Ruskies.

Cold War’s story focuses on Perseus, a Russian covert operative who has been sowing discord within the United States since World War II. In a mission briefing from CIA brainwasher Jason Hudson, Perseus is accused of having stolen nuclear secrets from the Manhattan Project in 1943 and nearly stealing a nuclear bomb during the Vietnam War. “The CIA analysts consider him to be the single largest threat to the free world,” says Hudson.

And, just to add a little weight to Hudson’s claims, then-President Ronald Reagan marches into the room to give the mission the green light. Consider me … conflicted.

Raven takes center stage

Image: Treyarch, Raven Software/Activision

The Cold War campaign will be developed by Raven Software. That studio has provided a support role in past Call of Duty games, designing maps and various other features (most recently in Call of Duty: Warzone) but this is its highest-profile showing to date.

According to Dan Bunting, co-studio head of Treyarch, bringing Raven in for the campaign ensured the studios could release Cold War alongside next-gen consoles: “We asked ourselves, could we get it done in time for the next-gen hardware launch? This is a big challenge. We determined we would need to have a strong partnership with another studio to make it happen.”

Cold War is planned for release on Nov. 13 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. It’s also coming to PlayStation5 and Xbox Series X but, given the unknown release dates for the next-gen consoles, it’s possible this will happen after the initial release of the game. Early leaks indicate that players will need to purchase a “Cross-Gen Bundle” if they want to upgrade their current-gen game to the next generation of consoles.

Breaking down the Cold War

A helicopter flies in Black Ops Cold War Image: Treyarch, Raven Software/Activision

Our first look at Cold War Black Ops — delivered over video conference — didn’t offer reams of gameplay, but Raven did show a sampling of some of the missions we can expect to see in the final game. Many of the mission types should be familiar territory for Call of Duty players — sneaking behind enemy lines, mowing down enemy trucks with vehicle-based turrets — but with the twists that are part and parcel to the Black Ops series.

For example, one mission with Woods, set deep in Russian territory, sees players infiltrating a secret training base. One minute you’re walking through dingy access hallways and the next you’re … in a 1980s arcade? Yes, it seems this secret training base houses a full recreation of Main Street, USA, designed to prepare for a forthcoming invasion. Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” blares as Russian special forces agents stream into the arcade and an outrageous gunfight ensues.

In another mission, players control a Soviet undercover operative working inside the USSR’s intelligence headquarters. Rather than a gunfight, this mission feels more like a scene from Mission: Impossible, as you attempt to secure information through stealth and maybe a little bit of poisoning.

The final mission shown, set in flashback during the Vietnam War, highlights the surrealist hallucinations that have been in most of the Black Ops games thus far. Bunkers fall directly from the sky as a creepy, disembodied voice describes the horrors you’re seeing, seemingly attempting to uncover the truth of a long-forgotten moment. It’s authentic to Black Ops’ origins and should produce a campaign plot with plenty of unexpected moments.

It appears that Raven and Treyarch are really leaning into the 1980s aesthetic for the entire game, and while it’s possible that we may still see a futuristic time jump (with Black Ops, I’m not ruling anything out), my initial impression is that this is a return to the historical tenets of the series.

As for the multiplayer and Zombies components of Black Ops Cold War, Treyarch has confirmed that both are major components — as is Warzone — for the game’s Nov. 13 release date, but we won’t be able to share more details on those features until a later reveal. Until then, we’ll just have to settle for listening to the Vice City soundtrack on loop to get us in the mood.

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